“Your problems are my problems and my problems are your problems.”
That statement truly sums up the deep heart motivation of the latest Hope in Haiti short term mission trip to Kawo, Haiti.
Aaron Day, lead Pastor of Crosswater Church in Sultan, Wa, spoke to the congregation gathered in the rough rock walled building. He spoke through an interpreter quoting John 3:16 and Matt 22:37-40, landing on the crux of serving one another with the knowledge that those around you are your neighbors. Inside the church, exposed corrugated metal roof, dirt floor, rough benches and mango wood trusses completed the atmosphere. Pastor’s words traveled out the open doorways and windows to reach the ears of the dozens gathered outside. The valuable depth of truth in the simple and often repeated verses brought a few of us to tears as we reflected on our mission to serve our neighbors in the remotest parts of the earth. This Sunday message spoke volumes as God’s words delivered by Aaron penetrated deep. Hope in Haiti truly exists to serve our neighbors in Haiti. As we have grown to support thirty in-country school and church employees and several hundred students, we are maturing to a phase of focusing on serving alongside, in essence teaching them to fish and fishing with them. Pastor’s message reached not only the ten of us sitting on the elevated dirt stage, but as the words were translated to Creole, they landed on the ears of around two hundred people gathered from the surrounding mountain region.
On this visit, six grueling miles into the mountainous backcountry of north central Haiti, we began to purposely steer our actions away from direct service to empowering the people of Kawo. We remain hands on in regards to providing fluoride treatments and other emergent needs, but as far as major projects, we had to purposely not put our noses to the grindstone and instead invite them to dig post holes and string barbed wire themselves. In as many areas as possible, we are moving past the stage of “stopping the bleeding” and moving to a process of developing community.
One prime example involved a young boy with a very bad tooth infection. His infection was dicovered by our team member administering fluoride. She brought him to our attention with the query as to what we could do. After a quick exam it was determined he was beyond our ability and needed a dentist.
His father was contacted and informed of the situation. Having absolutely no funds, he was at a loss as to how to care for his son. Situations like these can spiral out of control and infections spread to the rest of the body. Families who can’t afford care actually go into debt for what ends up being a more expensive funeral. So our first opportunity was presented. We spoke as a team and prayed that night at dinner. We decided to begin by asking if the church community could pick up the fifty dollar (US), four hundred Haitian dollar, tab. We actually had funds there at camp to provide but our view was one of developing community and felt we could actually hurt this process by just providing the money without first allowing the church body the opportunity to love their neighbor. Our inquiry was met with a quick and negative response.
There were no funds. The loving and welcoming people of the Kawo region are some of the materially poorest on earth often living on barter and zero annual income. Haitian money value is based on “gourds” (the “r” is silent): five gourds equal one Haitian dollar and eight Haitian dollars equal one US dollar. The wealthier incomes may be as much as three dollars a day but there are very few of those. So with no funds available from the church body, our funds were the only option to meet the immediate need. We discussed how to give them and decided we would give the money to the church leadership and allow them to distribute as they saw best. The result was beyond our expectation. The men of the church explained to the father that the first dental visit was paid for as long as he returned with proof of treatment. In addition, to receive funds for additional visits he would have to provide further documentation. This wise stewardship decision was very encouraging to us and was received well by the father. Time will tell the outcome, but the accountability and maturity of leadership gives us great hope.
A second and more hands-on opportunity involved the building of a wire fence around the school/church property. The local men had purchased wooden posts of various sizes and shapes and we provided funds for the spools of barbed wire. When we arrived in camp, the project was discussed and post hole digging began. We discussed how to best involve the kids and families in the building and decided to do our best to work alongside as opposed to doing it for them. It took a great effort to not do the work ourselves and instead hand the tools to the men standing around. The normal behavior we have experienced in the past is for the young men to lounge around and not help the older men do the work. So we invited the younger men to step up and help. We would even go so far as to make ourselves busy with other activities leaving the area. It was an effective technique and the younger men began to get involved. As they established roles, we reintroduced ourselves, along with a few of the older school students, into the project and knocked out the majority of the fence, leaving the remaining few feet for them to complete.
While in the mountains, we continued to document the students attending school, over four hundred now. This allows us to not only reconnect with the already sponsored children but to continue gathering information on new and unsponsored students. In addition, team members observed the meal program that provides two simple meals a week to the students. As the sponsorship program grows so does our ability to care for the children of the Kawo School with meals. Most of the children do not eat regularly and this program provides a large portion of beans and rice for all the children. Currently the school provides education for any child able to attend, some walking as far as two hours. Classes spill out of the building and into the surrounding grounds. Planning has already begun for additional classroom space. The ground to the west of the existing school house seems to be the spot for growth. Much prayer and planning will guide the decision to break ground.
OUR LAST JOY IN THE MOUNTAINS was the wonderful opportunity to visit the homes of several students. We hiked around the area and just said hello. The families were equally as honored and welcomed us with hugs and smiles. One gentleman even provided three long sugar canes as a thank you. At first glance, the homes all have the same look, three structures: a main living area for sleeping and eating, a second small kitchen hut for cooking, and an elevated food storage hut. From a distance the oxidized grey wood or rock walls blend with the surroundings but we discovered, as we visited, the personalized differences. Some of the homes were actually painted in faded pinks, blues and greens. A few families had small porches on the front of their homes. Each “yard” was tended, swept and arranged. One even had a rock-lined, raised bed with an aloe plant and a papaya tree. Various tropical fruit and flowering plants surrounded the homes: citrus, mango, avocado, okra, coffee, hibiscus, banana, plantain, poinsettia, cocoanut, sugar cane, ginger and taro. We came to realize as we visited the homes that even the poorest of the poor have much to be thankful for.
Our time in the mountains flew by. It always seems to. The hike down to Nan Wo took a few hours but at the end we were revived by the newly installed showers in “Upper Room”. Even a dribble of water is lavish after a few days in the mountains. God is doing so much with and for the people of Kawo and it is an honor and very exciting to be a part of it.– Tony Robinson